On 14 March 1761, a group of 15 self-employed weavers gathered in the village of Fenwick and signed a document that bound them to be "honest and faithfull to one another ... and to make good & sufficient work and exact neither higher nor lower prices than are accustomed". The Fenwick Weavers Society quickly began lending money to needy members and their families – arguably making it the first recorded credit union. In the early 1800’s it set up a subscription library and an "emigration society" to help villagers make new lives in the New World.
"Cooperation has been around since the year dot, but making it official was different," said John McFadzean, who researched the weavers' history with fellow amateur historian John Smith. "....having the ability to set up the infrastructure to run a documented cooperative was quite a feat ... no one has anything like it predating this."
Left with a handful of members, the Fenwick Weavers Society folded in 1873 – in part a victim of its popular emigration society. Fenwick campaigners are now pressing the lottery and the Co-operative Society to help build a heritage centre in the village. The Co-op’s historians acknowledge that Fenwick was the first proven cooperative, as does Rochdale council.
I do like it when I learn something new. None of this diminishes what the Rochdale Pioners did of course.